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Tory councillor: ‘Stamp out councillors’ racist social media posts’

05 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Llandudno. Picture by Ed Webster (CC BY 2.0).

Richard Evans Local Democracy Reporter

A council must stamp out anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts by councillors, a Conservative councillor has said.

The matter was brought up when Conwy’s finance and resources scrutiny committee met to discuss the council’s draft inclusive plan for the next four years.

The plan is intended to go hand in hand with the Equality Act and protect people against unfair treatment, relating to their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Claims

The draft plan was scrutinised by the committee who supported it in principle before it goes before Conwy’s cabinet.

But during the discussions, Llandudno councillor Harry Saville claimed to have seen anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts from councillors and asked what leaders were doing to combat it.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen across the UK a pretty shocking and horrific increase in both Islamophobic an anti-Semitic crime, and that should be entirely unacceptable,” said Cllr Saville.

Cllr Saville then quoted a section of the council’s current policy.

“’We will improve personal security and access to justice’, and the specific action which talks about tackling hate crime and raising awareness around hate crime specifically singles out both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and I do wonder if the action is recorded as some sort of reflection over what we have sadly seen over the last six months.

“Something I’ve been rather disappointed by is over that time we have seen members of this authority posting social media comments, which fall short of the IHRA’s (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) working definition of anti-Semitism. They would be classed anti-Semitic and that is unacceptable.”

He added: “I expect group leaders of all political groups will have a role to play in stamping this behaviour out.”

Responsibilities

Cllr Saville then asked what group leaders were doing to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

Cabinet member for democracy and governance Cllr Chris Cater then said the Local Government Act 2021 had tightened up on leaders’ responsibilities, adding there was a reporting mechanism.

Monitoring officer Matthew Georgiou then said Cllr Saville should consider reporting any incidents through the council’s proper channels.

“We have a meeting with all group leaders with the standards committee to go through their duty under the Welsh Government and Local Elections Act 2021 in order to demonstrate how group leaders have tried to promote good conduct between members of their group; however, I would make the point that does not extend to culpability or direct responsibility for the individual conduct of a member, which is about promotion of good behaviour,” he said.

“I would also go on to say the comments made by Cllr Harry (Saville) are clearly generic. If there are any specific incidents that fall below the expected standards or are in breach of the code, then they would need to be looked out on an individual basis.”

Cllr Charlie McCoubrey then reiterated the point that incidents should be dealt with by the standards committee.

Questions

Cllr Abdul Khan then questioned why Cllr Saville had broached the subject at the meeting, adding any incidents of racism should be dealt with by the standards committee or ombudsman.

Cllr Khan commented: “None of us here are judge and jury to decide. We are all adults. We know the consequences, and we take our individual responsibility when we express our feelings. It is not fair on group leaders to have that burden at all. Now the comment Cllr Harry (Saville) made, how does he know the rule of the council’s code of conduct?

“If he had seen something on Facebook or things like this, if he is feeling uncomfortable, there are avenues he can take. Councillors are not just councillors; they are individuals as well and come from all backgrounds, have children, have family, have everything.

“If somebody thinks somebody is speaking out of turn, this is maybe for them, but the person who is speaking out of turn may have some reasons to do so, so I don’t think he can be a judge to say somebody has said something that has been very anti-Semitic or Islamophobic. If you want, you can take that up directly with the individual, and they might be able to explain to him why but not to bring it into this forum.”

“Legitimate speech”

Cllr Hannah Fleet then said not everyone recognised the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

“Cllr Harry (Saville) has raised the IHRA definition before,” she said.

“Ken Stern, who is an American Jewish Committee Anti-Semitism expert, was actually part of the group that wrote that (definition) 20 years ago or so.

“He now criticises that application of the definition. The UN have not adopted it. In fact, I quote from groups speaking to the UN that it has been used to muzzle the legitimate speech and activism by critics of Israel’s human rights record, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would both fall foul of the IHRA’s definition, so I do counter that it might be dangerous for us to be using that definition for any sort of policy we are making here.”


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the original mark
the original mark
1 month ago

Maybe if there wasn’t so much Islamophobic rhetoric coming from the english tories other people might not feel enabled to copy them?

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